EPA proposal could have disruptive effect of flow of electricity, state House committee told; Move to limit CO2 emissions would shift electricity generation from coal to gas-fired plants

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Federal rules proposed to substantially improve air quality nationwide could have a negative effect on the health of Arizona citizens and the state economy, according to testimony at a public meeting of the Arizona House Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources held on August 22 in Globe.

A plan proposed in June by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets a national goal of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). These trims will be based on the emission levels of these gases in 2005 and states will be required to decide how to make these trims based on individual goals EPA will set for each state.

While the EPA proposal is still in the comment period until October 16 and a final rule is not expected until June 2, 2015, based on the proposed rule, Arizona will have the second highest goal to meet in the country. And that, according to Beth Hager, director of public affairs with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), could result in a major shift in how electricity is generated and distributed throughout the state, especially in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The result could be, especially during the transition period, a less certain flow of electricity for air conditioning in summer, which could negatively impact the health of people and stifle the current growth of the Arizona economy, she said.

In her testimony at the Committee meeting, Hager noted that Arizona would have to trim its CO2 output by 52% by 2030, which is exceeded only by the 54% required for Washington State. The goal excludes the Navajo Generating Station, which EPA will deal with separately.

“Based on the proposed rules, Arizona will have to reduce its carbon intensity of 702 lbs/MWh by 2030, and that could require a major shift in the mix of existing power sources,” Hager said. “A substantial percentage of Arizona electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels.

“Achieving the EPA goals would require a huge shift from coal-fired to natural gas-fired generation to meet interim and final goals. The state also would have to beef up generation from low-emitting power sources like solar, wind and nuclear power. Additional trims in CO2 emissions would come from improved energy efficiency of homes and businesses, and reduced energy demand. And EPA will require states to meet 77% of their goals by 2020,” she added.

A shift from coal-fired to natural gas-fired generation also would greatly alter electricity transmission patterns, added John Lesueur, assistant director of the Utilities Division of the Arizona Corporation Commission.

Much of the coal-fired generation is located in the eastern part of Arizona while much of the natural gas-fired generation is in the west, primarily due to independent firms building gas generation plants to sell electricity to utilities in California when that state permitted merchant competition, he said. As those gas generation plants have had minimal use, it is not known if they can provide the steady flow of electricity Arizona needs especially during summer air conditioning season. The result could be more power interruptions in the East Valley (including sections of Pinal County) as the traditional flow of electricity from east to west is reversed from west to east.

When asked if Arizona could add more nuclear generation capacity to augment the electricity state utilities get from the Palos Verde Plant in Tonopah, Lesueur explained that it takes at least five years to build and get a nuclear plant up and running so it couldn’t figure in short-term goals set for 2020.

An additional complaint concerning the possible shift from coal to gas generation, Committee member State Rep. Albert Hale noted that coal mining on Indian reservations is a major source of jobs and income for these people, and thus should be preserved. Arizona’s coal-fired generation plants are major customers of reservation mined coal.

Prior to EPA’s announcement, Arizona had been making much progress in reducing emissions. Since 2005, the state has already trimmed nitrogen oxide emissions by 50% and SO2 emissions by more than 35%, Hager said. Arizona already generates substantial electricity from solar energy and state utilities are required to generate 15% of electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

To draft Arizona’s plan to meet the proposed EPA rules, ADEQ is working with utilities and other stakeholders, she noted. ADEQ also is drafting comments on the EPA plan to submit before October 16 explaining the unique circumstances of Arizona’s climate that might make the planned emission trims unreachable.

And ADEQ is exploring the possibility of filing a lawsuit – alone or with other states – to challenge EPA authority to set CO2 emission reduction goals, arguing that the Clean Air Act only empowers EPA to set procedures for reducing emissions, not goals. Several attendees of the meeting, including Andy Tobin, current Arizona House Speaker and candidate for U.S. Congress in the 1st Arizona District; and Gila County Supervisor Mike Pastor, both urged ADEQ to proceed with the lawsuit.

James Hodl (70 Posts)

James J. Hodl is a career journalist who has worked for newspapers, magazines and trade journals. A graduate of Southern Illinois University with a Bachelor of Science degree in Journalism, Hodl began his career as a reporter with the Palatine (IL) Herald and the Morton Grove (IL) Review before becoming editor of the trade publication Appliance Service News. In recent years, Hodl has had articles published in Consumers Digest, Good Housekeeping, Home Remodeling, Kitchens & Baths and Salute; and has contributed to trade publications serving the home furnishings, restaurant and casino markets. A native of Chicago, Hodl relocated to San Tan Valley in 2013.


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